Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Bridge of Aln Hotel, Whittingham, Northumberland


        I was recently sent a link to a report by Tash from a Professor of Entrepreneurship and Regional Economic Development at the University of Northumberland. This was about the important influence on the happiness of locals versus the often equal frailty of the local pub, in small communities. The link is here, and the report uses statistical analysis and sources including the Office for National Statistics, and Actions with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) to support the claim, that pubs in small communities are a positive focal point within them.

What I found interesting was I was sent this a couple of days after reading that the Bridge of Aln Hotel in Whittingham, Nortumberland, an isolated community not too far from Netherton with its famous Star Inn, was currently closed. No details were provided, but I always worry when an isolated pub closes, especially one on the National Inventory. There is a link to the listing here which gives some details and beautiful photos of this unspoilt former hotel.

I visited in 2013 with Wee Fatha. We were staying in Long Framlington, a long finger of habitation on the A697 just down the road. Having eaten in the village we headed for Whittingham and then to the Star at Netherton. The Bridge of Aln didn't look particularly open and you enter through a door at the back, having parked in the courtyard. I don't think the large front door is any longer in use. There were lights on so we knew it was open but am guessing it doesn't attract much passing trade.

Having found our way to the bar we found a gaggle of locals enjoying drinks and conversation about local life - despite its remoteness, the area has numerous small villages and hamlets and it appeared all those drinking there were local. It was quiet (if that makes sense given my description of the conversation) warm and relaxing and the locals soon started asking us where we were from and going. I had a pint of Youngers of McEwans on keg and WF a soft drink and we went for a wander about in the actually quite large building. To note, the Whatpub website states it sells real ale - am guessing this is seasonal, as there was none there when we visited.

The bar is 1950's in style, as are much of the furnishings, and one of the doors (maybe for the bar?) has a sign stating "Select Bar" on it. This is a feature I have never seen before and am guessing it relates to its former days as a hotel.  We didn't get to see the rear right room but it looks rather fine on the National Inventory pub website. When we got back to the bar we explained that we were going to see Vera at the nearby Star at Netherton and we were told to hurry as if there was nobody in around 21.30 she would shut - we arrived just as she was saying goodbye to the last customer so just in time!

Another pub in the area that, alas, I have not yet visited, is the Star at Harbottle. It is only 3.8 miles away from the Star at Netherton and is similarly isolated. I was disappointed to read that this pub is also currently closed - especially since the pub has diversified to provide a tourist information service, and sell crafts as well as becoming the local shop. In his report, Professor Ignazio Cabras states" this positive effect increased threefold between 2000 and 2010 (the period examined) - possibly because pubs have become increasingly important as other local services such as post offices and village shops have closed."  

It is interesting that both pubs are in Northumberland, given the provenance of the report, and that in this case, the diversification has (temporarily I hope) not kept the Star at Harbottle trading. Especially since in other rural communities the pub taking on the shop - such as the Sycamore at Parwich in Derbyshire, seems to have helped keep the pub open, and strengthened its place in the community.

Perhaps the details in the report show that, sadly, the pressures upon rural and isolated pubs are increasing ever more since 2010 and that even necessary diversification of the business is no guarantee of pub survival. In the end, you still need footfall. If people aren't coming to the pub to drink it will close. Lets hope both pubs reopen and continue to serve their communities, and that both communities in turn do their best to support them.

Your very good health

Wee Beefy

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